Dedicated to Joey,
Geographic Distribution & Habitat:
Capuchin monkeys live throughout Central and South America.
Capuchin monkeys are small and compact. Weighing only 5 to 10 lb (2 to 5 kg), capuchins are quite agile and nimble. Their prehensile tails act as an extra appendage and can be as long as their bodies—12 to 22 in (30 to 56 cm)!
There are many species of capuchins, with many different colorations seen. The most common species have cream-colored faces and dark brown bodies, but there are also species that are solid dark brown, tan, or almost golden. Their faces are bare and pink, showing off their inquisitive expressions.
Capuchins mostly eat fruit, leaves, and insects, but they are incredibly smart. They have the largest brains relative to their body size of any New World monkey, and they have been observed using many types of tools to crack open clams and nuts and to catch prey, like frogs and ants.
Behavior & Lifestyle:
Capuchins live in large groups with relatively stable, separate hierarchies of males and females. Most females in a group are related, and they help nurse and look after each other’s offspring. Males cooperate to defend their territory and protect against predators, which include eagles, jaguars, and snakes. They are very vocal, with a wide array of calls ranging from alarm calls for identifying predators to contact calls for keeping in touch over longer distances. They spend almost all of their time in the trees, except for occasional trips down to the ground to look for water. In the wild, capuchins live about 20 years, but they have been known to live over 40 years in captivity, which is one of the reasons why they make such appealing service monkeys.
Threats & Conservation:
Capuchins have been used in the entertainment industry, as service monkeys, and in the pet trade for centuries, but threats extend to wild populations, as well. Capuchins sometimes come into conflict with humans, since their ranges may overlap with farmland and they may raid crops. In some areas, deforestation is threatening their habitats, and the future for some species looks uncertain. Although species range from being of “Least Concern” to being Critically Endangered*, it is crucial that we work hard to protect capuchins both in the wild and in captivity.
*Conservation status update May 2016
What’s in a Whistle?:
Like many primates, capuchins have an extensive repertoire of vocalizations. In some capuchin species, these vocalizations include a variety of whistles that correspond to different food items. This allows capuchins to let other individuals know when they have located food and what type of food they have found, so they can all dig into the feast together!
Grooming has a great significance in capuchin societies. Capuchins almost always groom up the dominance hierarchy, attempting to gain favor with more highly-ranked individuals in hopes that they may be able to work their way up in rank. So, when you see capuchins grooming each other, they’re not just trying to be nice—these are strategic monkeys!
With their large brains and nimble fingers, capuchins have figured out how to use a wide variety of tools—including leaves as sponges to soak up water, stones to crack open nuts, and even crushed millipedes as insect repellant! But sometimes, all they need is sheer willpower. They have even found a way to open up the tightly-sealed shells of clams. By persistently rubbing the clams between their palms or against tree trunks, capuchins have learned that they can eventually tire out the muscle of the clam so that the shell will pop open, revealing the delicious meat inside.
Video of wild white-throated capuchin monkeys courtesy of Arkive.org
Tufted Brown Capuchin
Did you know that Capuchins have the highest brain to body weight ratio of all primates (including you?)
During my research into stereotypic behavior in ex-pet primates for my Master's I chose to work with Capuchin monkeys. Before this I knew little about these very special primates. After working with them I can surely say they are one of my favorite of all animal species. Capuchins are extremely active, social and highly intelligent animals. I hope you enjoy reading this blog about them as much as I enjoyed writing it. This blog is dedicated to Joey at Wild Futures, a very special Capuchin.
Capuchin monkeys (genus Cebus) are distributed in Central and South America. Etymology of the name Cebus historically comes from 15th century explorers who, once seeing the peculiar small bodied primates, named them after a group of friars, the Capuchins. The word Cebus in Greek means long-tailed monkey.
The genus Cebus comprises of many species and sub-species. For the purposes of this blog I list only the main (uncontroversial) sub-species.
Table 1. Genus Capuchinus
Capuchin monkeys are primarily arboreal and diurnal species. Their diets are omnivorous as they exploit a variety of food sources including: eggs, small vertebrates, seeds, fruits, vegetation, etc. Capuchins live in social groups between 5-30 individuals. This social grouping is typically uni-male multi-female (UM-MF). The lifespan of a Capuchin in the wild is up to 25 years, while those in captivity can live much longer (see photo of Mrs. Spock, below). These monkeys are the most intelligent of all the New World monkeys. They have been observed to use tools in the wild and have even passed the self-awareness mirror test.
Threats to these little monkeys, like most wildlife, are due to habitat loss and degradation. In addition, the trade in Capuchin monkeys poses a serious threat to their survival in the wild. Trade of Capuchin monkeys is primarily for the pet-trades. Many individuals are captive bred while others are caught from the wild.
Serious welfare implications arise in the keeping of non-human primates as pets. Primates that are kept as pets are most often deprived in physical and social conditions compromising their welfare. It is extremely difficult to meet the physical and psychological needs for pet primates as they are living without their conspecifics. Primates sold in the pet trade may be maternally deprived as they are prematurely separated both behaviorally and nutritionally from their mothers. Mothering and allomothering is vital to the social development in this genus.
Etymology: The derivation of history or a word
Arboreal: A form of moving from one place to another in the trees.
Dirunal: A lifestyle of animals that is active in the day. Opposite of nocturnal, being active in the night.
Ominvorous: Eating both animal and plant foods.
Conspecifics: Belonging to the same species.
Allomothering: Is non-maternal infant care by other individuals in the family or group.
View video of wild tufted capuchin monkeys courtesy of Arkive.org
Written by Kaitlyn Elizabeth-Foley for her February 2012 Letters from the Field blog series.
Nut-Cracking Monkeys Use Shapes to Strategize Their Use of Tools
On February 27, 2013, ScienceDaily reported the following:
Bearded capuchin monkeys deliberately place palm nuts in a stable position on a surface before trying to crack them open, revealing their capacity to use tactile information to improve tool use.